Immediately following his switch to Sevilla, Yevhen Konoplyanka staunchly explained why he’d chosen to move to the current Europa League holders over a host of English Premier League clubs who were interested.

“If I was two-and-a-half metres tall and didn’t know how to control a ball then I may have gone to England, but here [in Spain], the football’s more technical. It’s the best,” he said.

It’s hard to argue with his decision. After all, Konoplyanka is a magician with the ball at his feet. And in one of Sevilla’s biggest games of the season, against Real Madrid, he picked the perfect occasion to show precisely that. Danilo, Madrid’s right-back, was his hapless victim, in a match where Konoplyanka completely mesmerised and bamboozled the Brazilian.

Using his awesome blend of razor sharp ball control, changes of pace, lightning sharp agility to rapidly change direction and speed of thought the Ukrainian international proved a far too explosive and unpredictable opponent for Danilo to come to grips with.

Konoplyanka never let him settle, he always threw up something different whenever he engaged in 1v1 duels with the former FC Porto starlet. He went around the outside, tore him apart when cutting inside, while he even went over him and straight through him. Some would term his style as old-fashioned, which is a reasonable suggestion, for the supremely confident Konoplyanka backed himself every time to run at his man, and beat him. More often than not, he did so too. His direct approach, parlayed with the sheer speed at which he executes everything unsurprisingly saw him successfully able to wreak havoc down the left.

Sid Lowe described Konoplyanka’s dominance on the night brilliantly, saying: “The olés were ringing round the Pizjuán and Yevhen Konoplyanka was running rings round everyone, turning in the kind of display that was so good it was funny, turning people inside out and back to front.”

Being suitably assisted by his fullback, Benoit Tremoulinas, Konoplyanka heaped additional grief on Danilo, who must be given some sympathy, as Isco often failed to track the Sevilla left-back, leaving Danilo isolated and forced to contend with 2v1 scenarios with far too much regularity.

Sevilla’s exciting pairing on the left, who are quickly developing a notable rapport with one another as the season progresses, displayed yet again what a damaging partnership they can be. They’re full of pace and energy, but more than that, they also communicate, support and cover for each other, adding a much needed layer of balance. The famously meticulous Sevilla manager, Unai Emery, would surely love seeing this.

There were plenty of prominent examples where Konoplyanka would usher his fullback to move into the space he’d created by cleverly cutting infield. As a consequence, with Danilo occupied by Konoplyanka and Isco usually not working back, Tremoulinas had oceans of room to surge into.

To touch on the former Dnipro sensation’s movement again, which is an area of his armoury that can tend to get overlooked in the wake of his tremendous talent on the ball, it’s still an equally important weapon for him.

His knack of recognising little pockets of space in between defenders and midfielders was used very effectively against Los Merengues. He constantly exploited gaps in between the lines, just to the left of Danilo, to receive possession. These little movements infield often caught Danilo off-guard, meaning he already started behind the eight ball whenever Konoplyanka obtained possession. Playing catch up against Konoplyanka is certainly not something any defender wants to do, and on many occasions throughout Danilo suffered for losing his man.

With the score locked at 1-1, Konoplyanka smartly drifted in from the flank to pick up possession in the 61st minute, without Danilo anywhere near him. Upon inheriting the ball he quickly turned and charged at the Madrid defence from this lethal central position. Casemiro shuffled over from his defensive midfield post, but Konoplyanka whizzed past him like he wasn’t there courtesy of a jink. Now at the edge of the box, all that confronted him was a sea of Madrid defenders. Not to worry for Konoplyanka, though, as he played a sublime one-two with Ciro Immobile to breach the Madrid backline. While he admitted after the game his desire was to shoot once getting on the end of Immobile’s return ball, he had to look elsewhere. “In the build-up to our second goal, Banega screamed louder than the fans,” he said, “so I had no choice but to pass to him! Still, I’ll try to be the one who scores next time.”

Thankfully for his team and Ever Banega, he made the right decision and played a sumptuous cut-back to his Argentine colleague to give the Andalusians the lead.

Having already assisted Sevilla’s first goal with a looping corner that fell to Immobile, this passage further depicted what an invaluable asset he is for Unai Emery’s outfit.

By the numbers, Konoplyanka’s impact in Sevilla’s spectacular 3-2 triumph also stacked up splendidly. On top of supplying those previously noted two assists, he made four key passes, completed a whopping six successful dribbles, had three shots and even chipped in with four interceptions.

It’s been refreshing to see Sevilla have been patient with their star signing and given him every chance to settle into life in Spain and get fully integrated into Emery’s squad, instead of thrusting him into the spotlight from the outset.

“The idea was to familiarise him with our concepts, requirements and players. Now he’s developing an understanding with [Benoit] Tremoulinas down the left and is showing more aggression defensively,” Emery explained.

To get an insight into the extraordinary lengths the club have gone to in order to help him adapt, look no further than Nick Dorrington’s fine piece on the topic. Nick explains how, on top of acquiring Dmitri Cheryshev in a coaching role, father of Real Madrid’s Denis, they’ve also made further steps to ensure his adjustment is as smooth as possible.

“They brought in Juan Candau, a fitness coach with a solid grasp of Russian following his two years at CSKA Moscow, and also signed promising Ukrainian forward Maryan Shved from Karpaty Lviv,” he said.

“While Cheryshev and Candau helped Konoplyanka — who spoke not a word of Spanish or English upon his arrival in Seville — through the language barrier in training, Shved became his socialising partner and confidant.”

Konoplyanka even recently admitted things haven’t easy since leaving Dnipro. “I am adapting, slowly, slowly,” he insisted.

“Things will be much better when I can understand perfectly what my teammates are saying to me in Spanish, but I am already in a position to compete. There is a lot of competition in the squad, but I’m ready.”

Even though the club has purposefully chosen to adopt a patient approach with Konoplyanka, it’s quickly become apparent how crucial he’ll be for Sevilla this season. He could even be their key man, such is his talent.

Having already mustered up an impressive two goals and three assists from just three league starts and six sub appearances, Konoplyanka’s unquestionably appearing like one of the best signings of the season. Indeed another masterstroke from Sevilla’s transfer mastermind, Monchi, who signed him on a free transfer.

Although it’s taken a lot of time and effort from Sevilla to ensure Konoplyanka’s integration, all their hard work now appears completely justified and to be well and truly paying off.

After all, there’s not too many players in the world who can change a game in an instant quite like he can.

About the author – Edward Stratmann

Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his brother in 2013.

twitter: @licencetoroam


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On October 22 the German sports portal reported that Eden Hazard could be on his way from Chelsea FC to Real Madrid next summer. The French paper L’Equipe meanwhile reported that Hazard has told several teammates that he no longer feels comfortable in London, and that he doesn’t feel that his development would benefit from staying in the Premier League.

Hazard’s current market value is €70 million, and a potential transfer could lead to the sort of blockbuster deal that has become so commonplace when Real Madrid are involved.

Hence, while a Hazard transfer would certainly satisfy the cravings of Real Madrid fans—who have become accustomed to their team signing the biggest names in world football—Chelsea will have to find a replacement for what would be a huge lose in their creativity department.

Last week, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho was invited by Shakhtar Donetsk’s CEO Sergei Palkin to visit Ukraine’s qualification match against Spain. This led to speculations that Mourinho was scouting the match for potential winter transfer signings. The Ukrainian football news twitter account @FutbolUkraine suggested that Mourinho could be taking a look at signing Yaroslav Rakitskiy as Mourinho had failed to sign John Stones from Everton in the summer, and John Terry is increasingly showing signs of slowing down.

Another possibility is that Mourinho was scouting a possible replacement for Hazard. The recent rumours of Hazard’s imminent departure make it probable that Mourinho was looking at offensive players rather than defenders, especially given the fact that Chelsea will make another attempt at Stones before looking for alternatives.

The fact that Shakhtar Donetsk hosted Mourinho suggests that Hazard’s replacement could be found at the club. One player who comes to mind is Shakhtar’s Brazilian attacking midfielder Alex Teixeira, who is currently on pace to break the Ukrainian Premier League goal scoring record—currently held by Borussia Dortmund’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Teixeira, however, did not participate in the match that Mourinho attended. So, while Teixeira is certainly on Mourinho’s radar, it can be expected that Chelsea’s manager was scouting a player on the pitch, and that he used Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s close connection to Shakhtar Donetsk owner Rinat Akhmetov to visit the match.

This means that Mourinho was most likely in the Ukrainian capital to scout either Sevilla’s Yevhen Konoplyanka or Dynamo Kyiv’s attacking winger Andriy Yarmolenko. Yarmolenko’s contract was set to expire next summer—the winger was already prepared to leave his boyhood club last summer following a dispute with Dynamo’s ownership over broken promises regarding a potential transfer in the 2015 summer break. Dynamo, however, remained firm, and Yarmolenko remained at the club and has since signed a new five-year contract.

But at the same time, Yarmolenko has also stated that he only signed the new contract to guarantee that Dynamo Kyiv would receive a decent compensation for him, and he is still determined to leave Ukraine next summer. Yarmolenko would be an intriguing possibility indeed for Chelsea, however, he is a very different player than Eden Hazard, and therefore might be more suited as an addition to the playmaker rather than as a replacement.

This shifts the focus to Yevhen Konoplyanka, who seems more creative than Yarmolenko—he relies more on his physical attributes. Konoplyanka made the step to a European top league last summer when he moved from Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk to the La Liga team Sevilla FC. Konoplyanka has made six appearances in La Liga so far—all of them from the bench—and with an average rating of only 6.43 he has yet to prove that he can make a lasting impact at Sevilla. His score in the Champions League, however, has been more impressive—here gave him an average score 7.04—which indicates that it will be only a matter of time before Konoplyanka moves up a step in the domestic competition as well.

One thing is certain: neither player alone would be enough to replace the likes of Eden Hazard, and consequently Mourinho could decide to sign several players to soften the impact that a Hazard departure would have on Chelsea. The trip to Kyiv suggests that Mourinho was there not only to scout both Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko, but also to speak to Shakhtar Donetsk about the possibility of signing Alex Teixeira. Given the links of Chelsea’s ownership to the post-Soviet space and especially to Shakhtar Donetsk, such a scenario is very possible.

About the author – Manuel Veth

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and Editor in Chief @FutbolgradLive and writes about the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football. You can find his work at

twitter: @homosovieticus


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